With nearly 20 years of legal experience in the public sector, Mara Elliott confidently enumerates the steps she will take if she is elected in November to become San Diego’s first woman city attorney.
Tackling domestic violence and child and elder abuse, eradicating problems like drugs, graffiti and prostitution as soon as they appear in neighborhoods and exercising fiscal care to direct public funds to programs that will do the most good are high on her list of priorities, said Elliott, who has served seven years as a city attorney in San Diego and currently is the city’s chief deputy attorney.
“I enjoy touching people’s lives in a meaningful way,” said the 47-year-old graduate of University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. Elliott, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant mother and a Longshoreman father and the first in her family to attend college, said, “I think what motivates me is the ability to change things for the better and make San Diego a good place to raise our children for generations to come.”
Elliott, recalled that her interest in law and public service was sparked as a student at UC Santa Barbara when she volunteered in the office of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney. Her mentor, a deputy district attorney who prosecuted murders and drug dealers, graduated from McGeorge. She followed in his footsteps, she said, and similarly has forged a fulfilling career practicing law in the public sector.
Elliott, who has published on her website an ambitious agenda for her first 100 days in office, said she intends to create task forces and outreach programs to tap the expertise of existing agencies and institutions throughout San Diego County and also learn about community needs directly from residents.
“I’m supporting Mara Elliott because she will hit the ground running on day one,” said former California Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins, who represents the 78th Assembly District encompassing southern coastal San Diego County.
Elliott said she plans to provide resources to revitalize the city’s Family Justice Center, which she said was once admired nationally for providing comprehensive services to victims of spousal, child and elder abuse but has suffered in the last dozen years “due to budget cuts and changing priorities.”
“What I want is to coordinate the efforts of all regional bodies to make sure we are providing a one-stop shop for victims of domestic violence,” she said. As one possibility, she said, local law schools might offer help with obtaining restraining orders.
Elliott said she also plans to assign a city attorney to each of the city’s nine police divisions who will assist police officers in developing cases and also attend various community and town hall meetings to learn about the legal needs of specific areas of the city. “We need to ensure that we have a working relationship with our neighborhoods,” she said. “We are the problem solvers in the communities.”
Previously Elliott served as a general counsel to community college and k-12 school districts and as counsel to the County of San Diego and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit Development Board.
She lives in Scripps Ranch with her husband Greg, a community college professor, and their two sons.
Atkins, a candidate in November for the California 39th State Senate District, said she was impressed by Elliott’s work as a deputy city attorney when Atkins served as a member of the San Diego City Council.
“As a member of the City Council who led the effort to adopt a living wage ordinance, it was very important to me that this law was actually working,” Atkins said. “There was no one better than Mara Elliott to ensure that city contractors were complying and paying their workers a livable wage.”
Elliott said as City Attorney she would create a specialized unit to prosecute unscrupulous employers and city contractors who falsify payroll records, do not pay all wages earned and fail to comply with San Diego’s fair wage laws. She said in her first 100 days in office she would create a bilingual hotline to field complaints from workers who feel they are not being paid fairly.
Also Elliott said she would see to it that women understand their right to equal pay for equal work and have the tools to fight discrimination at work.
As San Diego’s Chief Deputy City Attorney, Elliott takes pride in having standardized the city’s contracts for services and purchases. Not only did this save time, she said, but it reduced the city’s exposure to potential litigation.
Elliott said on her first day as City Attorney she would initiate an independent audit of her department, which employs about 144 lawyers, to find areas where wasteful spending can be eliminated. “My talent as a lawyer is operational efficiencies,” she said, and she would seek to “cut costs and use the savings to provide service where the public most needs it.”
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